Why romantic writing might be the challenge you’re looking for.
In every class I’ve taught, no one has ever raised their hand when I’ve asked the question: Who’s working on a romance? Not once. Rom-coms or YA stories featuring a romantic sub-plot are popular. But a straight-up romance, without a side of humour or irony? Never.
This is because writing about happiness – and a good romance normally demands a happy ending – is hard. It’s always easier to write about loss and grief and loneliness – the vocabulary for sadness is vast. Think of all the thousands of stories, movies, songs and poems that have been written about unrequited love, broken hearts and infidelity. There are countless playlists devoted to love gone wrong. But what about love gone right? In short: it doesn’t get nearly as much coverage.
Writing something that celebrates romantic happiness - to produce something that sounds sincere and not too sweet, inspiring but relatable - is a huge challenge. Visually, it’s a couple skipping down the street hand in hand, beaming at the world and smelling flowers in the park. Aurally, it’s Vic Damone singing On the Street Where You Live. But how do you fill a blank page with an original description of love? How do you convey that feeling of falling in love for the first or last time without resorting to written cliches? It’s so much harder to do than writing about heartache and requires intense commitment – experimenting over and over again with images and phrases and being ruthless about anything that sounds trite – until you’ve come up with a scene that’s so perfect it would make any reader want to fall in love again.
So, if you’ve decided to rise to the challenge and write a romance, what do you need to do first?
The most important thing is creating the two characters. As readers we have to fall in love with at least one of these lovers ourselves. Who are these people? How can their love story play out over 300 pages? Why would anyone care? What is it about them that makes this romance unique? Are they flawed enough to be realistic? Are they deserving of this huge love you’ve created for them? (Don’t waste your sublimely written romance on characters that don’t merit it.) Where is this love story taking place? When?
You also have to decide how much or how little sex you’re going to include. Sometimes the best sex scenes are the ones in a reader’s imagination, so don’t worry if the idea of writing about writhing bodies leaves you cold. It’s notoriously difficult to write a good sex scene, but as with every writing challenge, nothing is ever lost by trying. At the very least you’ve had a fun afternoon of writing.
With the best romances, there has to be an element of ‘will they or won’t they?’ What are the obstacles to this love? How can you set up these obstacles believably? How can you arrive at a happy ending in a surprising way?
If you give romance a go this Valentine’s Day, huge well done! Please let me know how it goes. If you'd like to book a workshop on writing romance, or any of the 300+ workshops I teach, please get in touch.
Happy Valentine's Day.